Matt, congratulations. You won the first part of the race. You won the second part of the race. By golly, you won the whole race. Talk about how you got to Victory Lane.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it was awesome. We had a really, really good car. Obviously the first 30 laps did not go well. That was at least 95% my fault. I don’t know what I was doing out there, but it didn’t go well.
Jason got us some track position so we could get up there with the leaders. Held up there pretty good. Got up to second. Under green we got the lead when Jimmie had the problem, were able to adjust on the car some more, felt goodabout what we had when we got the rain delay.
I was worried about the rain, the track conditions in the nighttime. I thought we were going to be better in a hotter, slick condition. But just shows I don’t know what I’m talking about.
But, yeah, had a good car. Had great pit stops, great strategy, had that restart at the end. That push from Kevin got us out in front where we really needed to be.
Q: Jason Ratcliff, talk about getting this opening win in the Chase, how the team performed here this evening.
JASON RATCLIFF: The team obviously performed great. The guys did a great job preparing the car this week. Making adjustments throughout the night. The racetrack had some rubber on it. Had some rain earlier today. Then we got that next rain shower, so the track went through a lot of different stages.
The guys did a great job on pit road giving the adjustments we needed to get the car right, and again preparing the car for this weekend. They’ve done an excellent job all season. They’re doing what they need to do. As a race team, they’re bringing fast cars to the racetrack, executing during the race, they’ll be back home tomorrow getting the Loudon car ready bright and early in the morning.
Q: Coach Joe Gibbs, certainly a strong showing tonight, you take one and two in the race, one and two in the points. Talk about Matt’s win tonight at Chicagoland.
JOE GIBBS: It’s obviously special for us. As everybody here knows, our sport is so dependent upon our sponsors, Rick, Dollar, General, they sponsored the racehere this weekend. Were thrilled for them. They had everybody here. That’s a big deal for us.
Really happy that Kyle did a great job. I felt like for Mars, a great night. It was special. We love coming to Chicago. It’s a great sporting area. We love that. I hated that we lost a bunch of fans with the rain, but it’s a special time for us. Lord blessed us. A great night. Obviously Toyota is a big part of this. I hated it for Denny tonight and FedEx, but it seems like something happens, it happens to Denny. I hate it for him.
For us, everybody back at the shop, we really appreciate it. It was a great night.
MATT KENSETH: Coach also needed the win tonight. I don’t know if anybody saw the Packers game.
JOE GIBBS: He’s not stopped all day, he’s not stopped (smiling).
Q: We did see that score.
We’ll go ahead with questions.
Q. I think of your six wins, four of them are on mile-and-a-half’s, JGR has six of seven. With four remaining Chase races on mile-and-a-half’s, should the rest of the field be scared?
JASON RATCLIFF: We’re excited about that. Each and every week you come out, there’s a lot of fast cars. Even tonight, you could look back at the 48 or the 29 or the 78, just countless cars running in different spots. If you put them up front, they’d be hard to pass, hard to beat.
Yeah, I think our mile-and-a-half program has been good. I think our program has been pretty solid all the way around. As you mentioned, I’m glad we have a few more mile-and-a-half tracks in the Chase. We’re excited about that. We feel like we have a pretty good package for that right now.
Q. Matt, can you say anything about that?
MATT KENSETH: Just fast cars. Jason did a good job answering it.
I think you have to be really good everywhere to be able to win a championship. I’m really enjoying this win. It’s been a record season for me. I’m obviously the same guy, the same driver. It’s obviously about Joe Gibbs Racing, the guys working there, Jason and the group and everything.
Denny has always been great at Loudon. Kyle has been great there. I’m looking forward to getting there and trying to do better because I feel like I’m the weak link.
Our speed was a little off at Daytona in July, so I’m a little worried about going toTalladega. But honestly, I feel good everywhere we go.
Q. Joe, a tough week for NASCAR, a lot of things happened off the track. I think some of the words that Brian and Mike used were the integrity needed to be restored, the character were called into the question. Racing can be the best medicine. I’m wondering if you think today maybe is the fix, maybe things can go forward from here.
JOE GIBBS: I sure hope so. I think getting back on the racetrack is great. Having a great race like tonight hopefully puts that behind us. That was a real tough thing to go through. I don’t think anybody wanted that to happen. It did happen.
I think in pro sports, I’ve seen things like that on the NFL side, over here certainly this was something that nobody expected. Sometimes in pro sports that happens. I think everybody tried to do the best we could in handling it. Hopefully we’ve got that behind us with the race tonight.
We all love our sport. Nobody wants to do anything that would hurt or harm it or disappoint people.
Q. Matt, you talked a little bit about thinking you might have engine issues during the course of the race. What do you think you were feeling?
MATT KENSETH: Nothing. I was just seeing if anybody was listening (laughter).
JOE GIBBS: I was. I had a slight coronary on that one (smiling).
MATT KENSETH: We just took off on one restart. Honestly, from the time we got here, I was real happy with my car, real excited with my engine. I think TRD did a great job of giving us what we needed to qualify up front.
I had that one restart where I was beside Greg. I would clear him, he’d keep driving past me. I think it was the spot I was in, it was on a restart, we did a couple things to help that out.
As soon as he got back in front of me, it was fine again. So it was probably just the driver’s imagination.
Q. Jason, this is your first Chase. How important was it to get a win or have a good run? Not that I think you lack confidence.
JASON RATCLIFF: Thanks, Bob (smiling).
Q. You’ve won five times this year. Was it important do you think for you, with you never having been through the Chase before, to get a win right out of the box?
JASON RATCLIFF: Obviously, yes, it was. We’ve had a pretty solid season. It’s important for us to go into the Chase with the season we’ve had and perform well. I felt like we have the opportunity to do that. To come to Chicago, like I said, felt like our team was very well-prepared and our car was well-prepared from front to back. To come out here again and execute the way we did, it makes me proud of the guys that I work with, proud of the race team, proud of the guys at JGR.
We know if we can put good Toyotas on the racetrack each and every week, Matt is going to go out there and get the job done for us.
One down, we got nine to go. We got a lot of tough competition around us. So we just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
Q. Coach, could you compare what this whole win means to you in comparison to a first win when you’re in the playoff season at the NFL?
JOE GIBBS: I think the best way to describe it, it feels the same. You’re so nervous. Obviously my role in the NFL was different because I kind of grew up in that, I had some expertise. These guys don’t pay any attention to anything I say (laughter). All they want is money. Me and J.D. run all over the place trying to give them enough money. I always leave the meetings saying, I’m going to go out and try to earn some money so you can throw it away.
My wife probably said it best, she said it’s like having babies, they’re all great. That’s the way you feel about it. I love this sport, and I think one of the things I love about this sport is our sponsors. It’s a whole different relationship that you have. To see people be willing to spend a lot of resources with you, then to see them get the benefit of it, I think is really thrilling for me.
But I think the comparison is so similar. Of course, I love the fact here that it’s our family, I get to work with J.D. and Coy. I love that part of it. So that’s special for me, too.
Q. Jason, when you saw all the engine problems out there that other people were having, were you concerned at all? Was there anything that could have been done differently as far as the way the race was started with the generators?
JASON RATCLIFF: It’s extremely hard when you get hot, you get out there, you’re racing, you’re turning 9500-plus rpms. You go through a rain delay, they sit there, everything cools off. You get a lot of heating and shrinking, hot and cold.
If you don’t heat the oil back up before you start them, it can be tough on them. You try to do the best you can, considering the circumstances.
But we saw a lot of different guys have problems. So I think that’s the start of it. And the second part of it, there’s so much grip in the racetrack, even before the rain delay, evenbefore it cooled off another five or six degrees, these guys were out thererunning crazy lap times, a lot of sustained rpms at the end of the straightaway, which is tough. You’re going to run 400 miles and do that lap after lap, something’s going to give.
Like you said, I think there were a lot of worried crew chiefs on pit road. I know I was. The further we went, the more problems you saw with all different manufacturers. So I’m not going to say I had my fingers crossed, but it was scary for sure.
Q. Would it have made a difference if you were allowed to plug in and change the settings?
JASON RATCLIFF: The thing that would have made the most difference is if we would have had the opportunity to change the gear. I think the rpms in the end was the culprit.
Don’t you think so, Matt?
MATT KENSETH: I think everything was perfect. I was happy with it (smiling).
Q. Joe, JGR is an organization that hasn’t always gotten off to the best of starts in these things. One and two in the opener, is that some kind of a statement?
JOE GIBBS: I think we got great news. We won the race tonight. We were one and two there.
The reality is tomorrow morning it starts all over again. We’re going to be worried. We got nine races. You see those competitors out there. You could see, where Jason mentioned, it could have been almost the top six, seven, eight could have been up there, got out front, it would have been a different story. I think this is going to be very, very competitive.
But you make a good point, too. Getting off to a good start, we’ve struggled some doing that. I thought it was a good feeling tonight to get off to a good start with both of our carsthere. Like I said, we hate that it seems like everything happens to Denny this year and FedEx. But that’s a big deal for us. It’s a good start. But the reality is tomorrow morning, it’s nine more to go.
Q. Matt, how confident were you on that last restart? What did you think your chances were if you hadn’t have had that opportunity on the restart?
MATT KENSETH: I mean, we’ll never know exactly what would have happened. I felt the previous run we were really spectacular at the end of that long run. We started to run too loose, were really fast at the end of that run and ran everybody down. Then slowed up a little bit. The car got a little tight, slowed up just a little bit before we pitted under green when we caught Kyle and were running second.
So I don’t know. We were a little too tight that run. I don’t know if we could have got by him or not. I thought our cars were very equal in speed. Being out front is always an advantage.
I kind of felt like on even ground. He was more than likely was going to beat us unless I had a car to get the runs that I was looking for. I’m not sure if that’s where he was going to be or not. Hard to predict.
Certainly being in front in that last restart was a big key and definitely made it a lot easier.
Q. Feel like you had a good chance?
MATT KENSETH: I felt good about my car since we got here, honestly. I felt like we had interesting practices. We got it where it was pretty far off at times, we got it where it drove really, really good at times. I thought it was really, really productive. We learned a lot ofthings. We found a lot of things that really affected the balance.
I don’t have any idea what setup we even raced today. Jason does a great job of putting all those pieces together, taking the comments, what the engineers and everyone else says. I felt like we had a good practice and found a lot of things. He was going to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and we were going to be pretty good today. So I felt pretty good about it.
Q. About the new rules. The restart procedures, Matt, you had some questions in the drivers meeting about how it worked in terms of guys hanging back. Did it go better than youexpected? Did you like the new procedures?
MATT KENSETH: I think sometimes you have things that are so simple like that, that you never really think of. I think once they said it, you walked away from there, at least for me, and I thought about it for an hour or so, I was like, Why didn’t we do that a long time ago?
From the restart box to the start/finish line, there’s a lot of things that can happen. As long as they police the leader, gets on the gas to go, as long as he does that first, he’s ahead of the second-place car, then it’s a good idea to race to the line.
You’ve seen all kinds of different situations this year where the leader took off first, but then hespun the tires real bad, the second car starts beating them, the second carwould have to let off the gas, they would get three-wide.
Once, I don’t remember where it was, you come out of turn two in sixth place. I think it’s a good call, actually makes a lot of sense. It will take away a lot of NASCAR having to decide, Is that too much, did he give it back, didn’t he? It’s easy: as long as he moves first, as long as you stay in your line like it used to be, it’s a good restart.
Q. All the ones tonight went pretty well?
MATT KENSETH: All the ones I was involved in, was close enough to the front to see it, I thought were about the same as we had. The one start, 18, Jimmie rolled better, Kyle just didn’t spin the tires as much.
I think it makes sense. It won’t back up the field so bad. There won’t be as much of the laying back and going out. You don’t have to slow up worrying about getting a penalty.
Q. Jason, not being able to communicate with the spotter, any impact?
JASON RATCLIFF: That’s not something we relied on a lot. We would have that communication just to kind of give our spotter a heads up of what’s going on. It’s not like we had to have that. We do a pretty good job of communicating with Matt on our analog radio.
It didn’t affect us. I could tell we didn’t have it, but I don’t think our normal way of doing things, stuff we have, didn’t affect us at all.
Q. Matt, this is the third year this has been the first race in the Chase. Each of the previous two years the winner of this race has gone on to win the championship. Do you believe in omens?
MATT KENSETH: Not really. I’d rather have you tell me that than whoever wins this finishes dead last.
It matters. Every single point, every position is equally as important from here all the way until the last lap at Homestead. So you want to get as many points as you can get each and every week. We did a great job of that this weekend.
You want to enjoy this, then go to work on New Hampshire tomorrow, try to go there and get as many points as you can. Just kind of take it one week at a time.
Q. Matt, as someone who was not really involved in any of the controversy over the past week, what was it like to view it from afar? What were your thoughts this week? You made a few comments about it being a tough week. What was your take on what took place?
MATT KENSETH: Well, for me, I wasn’t involved in any of it so I kind of enjoyed that. It seemed like we came in as the first seed, which was really great, but we were in the shadows all week with everything going on. I was all right with that. We had a lot of space to work on our cars, talk about things, go do all that.
I don’t know about the rest of it. I think it’s been talked about so much all week. I think the important thing is it’s behind us. I think everybody is pretty clear what everybody expects, the things that we should do and not do, although a lot of it is pretty obvious anyway.
Anyway, glad it’s behind us. Hope we can move on. I think it’s been a tough week for not only some of the teams and stuff involved, but it’s a tough week for NASCAR. They don’t want to do any of that stuff. I don’t think they do. That part of it hasn’t been any fun for anybody.